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Published Aug. 15, 2021

You don’t have to be on a movie set or on a tour of duty to use night-vision goggles. While the most advanced NVGs are still largely reserved for those in the armed forces––as well as the exciting missions depicted by Hollywood––many of the best night-vision goggles have become affordable enough for general use. So if you’re looking to see the campsite in a new light or have a clearer view of when you have a clear shot, you can find a pair of night goggles that’ll suit your needs.

Still, because NVGs are so often associated with special ops, it’s understandable if you feel a little left in the dark. This guide is meant to enlighten your search for the best night-vision goggles.     

What to consider when shopping for the best night-vision goggles

NVGs work by amplifying the small amount of visible light that’s present after the sun goes down to create images that your eye can see. They rely on complicated technology that turns light into electrical current before turning it back into visible light—much like old televisions. Complicated, too, is deciding between the best night-vision goggles. Here are some of the main features to consider.   

Have you made a style choice?

Night sight comes in different forms: goggles, binoculars, and monoculars. Night-vision goggles go over both eyes and can be mounted to your head. But unlike night-vision binoculars, pure night-vision goggles offer no magnification. Monoculars are used with just one eye, and are therefore more compact than the other two options. So binoculars are best if you want to see objects farther away, monoculars are best if you need to keep weight down in your pack, and NVGs are best if you’re looking for night sight that’s easy to use, especially when on the move.    

Do you need the next generation?

The best night-vision goggles are made in four generations of technology, numbered 1 through 4. Generation one is the oldest and the cheapest, and they are still the most common for hobbyists. On the other hand, military NVGs are made with generations two and above and can also cost ten times as much as Gen 1 technology––though such models are still available for public sale.

The main difference lies in the strength of the light amplification. While Gen 1 tops out at about 900 times the light gain, Gen 2 and above can reach 30,000 times the light gain. Gen 1 also offers lower resolution images––1,000 compared to more than 5,000, meaning Gen 2 and above gives you images with more clarity, especially at greater distances. Gen 2 and above also works better in lower-light situations, since they have more than 240 UA/lm light sensitivity, compared to Gen 1, which tops out at that rating. Gen 3 is currently used by many U.S. military units, since it features more than 300 yards of range, more 10,000 hours of use, and a ton of versatility as it can be used with scopes, camera adapters, and magnification lenses. Gen 4 offers benefits like faster adaptation to shifting light, but it’s not otherwise widely viewed as a huge advancement over Gen 3. The next innovation in night vision will likely be augmented reality.

Can you see heat?

Thermal night vision is another means of seeing images in the dark. Rather than converting light into electrical current and amplifying that signal, thermal goggles detect heat, providing outlines of the world based on what’s hot and cold. That means when you use infrared goggles, the deer you’re tracking will stand out in bright red and orange against the cold blue of the night. Thermal goggles are best in extremely low-light situations, where there truly isn’t any light to be amplified.

Do you want to relive what you see?

Some of the best night-vision goggles are also cameras, letting you capture footage and save it, rather than just viewing everything in real-time. If you’re hoping to take pictures of owls or video of the northern lights, you definitely want night goggles that can also capture content. Many such night goggles come with 32GB SD cards for storing files. Other NVGs have built-in LCD screens that let you watch what you’ve captured on the goggles themselves, without having to transfer any files. 

The best night-vision goggles

Whether you need night sight on the boat, on the trail, or on duty, here are the best night-vision goggles as we see it. 

Best night-vision goggles for outdoor enthusiasts: Night Owl Pro Nexgen Night-Vision Binocular

Far and Wide

Versatile night goggles offering 5X zooming for an array of uses. Night Owl

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Whether you’re hiking under the stars or hunting under the cover of darkness, the  Night Owl Pro Nexgen Night-Vision Binocular can improve your nocturnal adventures. The built-in columnated infrared illuminator lets you see in pitch blackness, while the 50mm objective lens lets in plenty of light and affords a field of view of 53 feet at a distance of 200 feet. The 5X zooming means that deer you’re hunting or the owl you’re watching will look even bigger. Meanwhile, these infrared goggles are themselves nicely compact, measuring under eight inches long, under six inches wide, and clocking in at less than 2.5 pounds without the batteries. Once you pop the batteries in, you’ll get up to 80 hours of use that’ll let your target really pop at night.

Best night-vision goggles for boaters: SiOnyx Aurora  

Water Sight

A night-vision monocular that can withstand submersion. SiOnyx

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With an IP67 waterproof rating, the SiOnyx Aurora camera can survive falling into the water near the shore. (The included case is waterproof, too). The camera also features GPS, as well as a compass and accelerometer, offering useful information when you’re out on the water. The infrared technology lets you see in near starless, moonless conditions, and you can sync the camera to your smartphone to stream your night footage wirelessly. You can also save footage via the 32GB micro SD card. That’s all packed into a portable night-vision monocular that weighs less than three quarters of a pound.

Best night-vision goggles for military precision: AGM Global Vision Foxbat-LE6 NL1

Night Watch

These night goggles are ready for the night shift. AGM Global Vision

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The AGM Global Vision Foxbat-LE6 NL1 night-vision goggles are subject to International Traffic in Arms Regulations, meaning they can’t be exported outside the U.S., so you know right away they’re serious. Add 5.6X magnification, a 145mm lens, and a detachable long-range infrared illuminator, and you’ve got some of the best night-vision goggles you can find. It’s no wonder that they’re used by police officers and military units alike. These military NVGs, with up to 60 hours of battery life, will automatically adjust to the brightness in your environment, and they also feature bright-light shutoff to protect the body. Not that the rugged photocathode tube needs much protection.

Best night vision goggles for kids: JStoon Night-Vision Goggles

Not Just a Toy

Offering long-distance viewing under a starless sky, these night goggles aren’t messing around. JStoon

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The JStoon Night-Vision Goggles goggles for kids could easily be good enough for many adults. They feature 3X magnification and 4X digital zoom, an 850 nm infrared illuminator, and are capable of seeing more than 984 feet in complete darkness. Kids (and adults) still learning patience can view footage (up to an hour of 960p high-resolution video) directly on the goggles’ 2.31-inch TFT screen. The 25mm objective lens won’t let in as much detail as the larger lenses that you’ll find in the best night-vision goggles. That said, the affordable price tag also means you don’t have to get too worked up if your kid breaks them—the IP56 rating offers only limited protection against water and dust.  

Best cheap night-vision goggles: Solomark Night-Vision Binoculars

Bargain Hunting

A nicely equipped set of night-vision goggles for your hunting gear or your surveillance equipment. SOLOMARK

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If you bought a pair of the JStoons for Junior and now you want something similar for yourself, with a touch more fire power and not much heftier of a price tag, consider the Solomark Night-Vision Binoculars. They are some of the best cheap night-vision devices you can buy, letting you see up to 1,300 feet ahead with a 31mm objective lens. The high-resolution image transmittance measures 640×480. Like those best night-vision goggles for kids, these budget NVGs also feature a TFT view screen with a 320×240 color resolution, and an 850 NM illuminator. They also provide some limited waterproof protection—the Solomarks have an IPX4 rating that’ll guard against splashes and not much more. Still, if you’re looking for a solid pair of cheap night-vision goggles that’ll work for your surveillance equipment or in your camping gear, these binoculars could be just what you’re trying to find.

FAQs

Q: Do night-vision goggles really work?

Yes, night-vision goggles really work. They let you see objects in total darkness, even if those objects are football fields ahead of you. One way night-vision goggles work is by converting the small amount of light photons that are present at night into electrical current and amplifying those electrons before converting them back into visible light. Thermal goggles detect heat energy, letting you see the shapes of images, even in situations where there truly is no light—like in a smoky building.

Q: Why is night vision so expensive?

Night vision is so expensive for a number of reasons. One reason is the high manufacturing costs for technology that can turn nearly invisible light into something visible or for technology that can read heat. Relatively low demand is another reason for the higher prices. In addition, many manufacturers have expensive contracts for making military NVGs, thus driving up the price point.

Q: What kind of night vision do Navy SEALs use?

Navy SEALs use night-vision goggles with four tubes instead of two, according to reports. The tactical night-vision goggles worn by SEAL Team Six, which killed Osama Bin Laden, were manufactured by L-3 Warrior Systems Insight Operations. 

The final word on shopping for the best night-vision goggles

The best night-vision goggles can let you see after dark in a whole new light. If you’re looking for military precision, you’ll need a pair of military-enhanced night-vision goggles with advanced technology that can amplify low levels of light by the tens of thousands. But that technology will also cost you thousands of dollars. For a factor of ten less, you can find night goggles that’ll sufficiently brighten the campsite or your view from the hunting stand. Ultimately, finding the best night-vision goggles comes down to how well you need to be able to see and how much you want to spend.

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